What’s missing in Clark-Johnson’s farewell speech

I sometimes read remarks by Gannett executives, then wonder: Are we on the same planet? Check out retiring newspaper division Chair Sue Clark-Johnson‘s speech on April 15, when she left the chairmanship of the Newspaper Association of America trade group.

Laudably, she noted that government is as secretive as ever, underscoring the vital need for watchdog journalism. “Consider that Freedom of Information requests either languish or take years to respond to by a foot-dragging, resistant government,” Clark-Johnson said. “A Knight Open Government Survey in March reported that — government-wide — there are 200,000 pending federal FOIA requests. Individual reporters are routinely threatened with fines and jail time in an effort to chill the free flow of information.”

Fine. But what has Clark-Johnson done in the past year to bolster watchdog work at Gannett newspapers and TV stations? Why is she content to allow, for example, the Montgomery Advertiser to scrape by without a legislative reporter for months at a time? How are journalists to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable when they don’t have working photocopiers?

“We are restricted only by our creativity and will to embrace change,” Clark-Johnson said in her speech. Well, no: Gannett is restricted by the failure of leadership to understand that its strategic plan is failing — that more of the same won’t cut it.

(Confidential to Corporate: Couldn’t you have broadcast video of Clark-Johnson’s speech, rather than just publishing text in the News Watch newsletter? If you walked the walk more often, we might believe you’re really serious about digital distribution.)

Your thoughts, in the comments section, below. Use this link to e-mail feedback, tips, snarky letters, etc. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Hat tip, to a Gannett Blog reader, for this item; image: this morning’s Advertiser, Newseum]

8 Responses to “What’s missing in Clark-Johnson’s farewell speech”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with you about the failure of Gannett’s strategic plan and how Gannett’s stinginess undermines its journalistic mission.
    I also would like folks in Gannett-land to know of the passing of a longtime Gannett editor who played a key role in making The Detroit News, when it was under Gannett ownership, its best paper:

    Christy Bradford, Kansas City
    Christy Bradford, former editor at News, dies
    Tom Greenwood / The Detroit News
    To anyone who ever worked with her, Christy Bradford was the consummate journalist; ethical, hard working, approachable and equally as skilled on fast-breaking stories.

    Bradford died Thursday, April 24, 2008, at her home in Kansas City, Mo., from a pulmonary embolism. She was 65.

    “She was a rock,” said Bob Giles, former executive editor of The Detroit News and curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

    “Christy had acquired a great reputation while working at the Detroit Free Press. I was fortunate to bring her to the Democrat & Chronicle, in Rochester, N.Y. I asked her to come with me when Gannett appointed me as executive editor at The Detroit News.

    “Christy was my great right hand at some interesting, but demanding, times at The News, including the joint operating agreement with the Free Press, the newspaper strike and with guiding The News to a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for beat reporting. She really had great news instincts.”

    At the time of her death, Bradford was a full-time faculty member at the school of journalism at the University of Kansas.

    Bradford, born in Marshalltown, Iowa, was a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. During her career, she worked as a reporter, editor, assistant managing editor and managing editor at newspapers such as the Democrat & Chronicle and the Free Press. She was managing editor of The News from 1986-97.

    She joined the faculty of the University of Kansas in Lawrence in 1999.

    “We are all so stunned and shocked,” said Ann Brill, dean of the School of Journalism.

    “She taught basic writing and editing and was also in charge of our multicultural scholars, which has had great success here at the university. She was a wonderful mentor to the students. She made sure they all studied and (she) listened to their problems, both personal and academic.

    “She was just like a mom here … but she didn’t pull any punches with the students. She was honest, but tempered it with encouragement. The students are going to be devastated at the loss.”

    At the university’s “Rate My Professors” Web page, one student had this to say about Bradford:

    “Christy can be a tough teacher (especially when it comes to picking out good topics to write about) but because of this, you learn a lot about what makes a good topic for a story.”

    Judy Diebolt, an editor in The News features department, worked with Bradford at the Free Press and The News.

    “When we thought we’d covered every angle on a big story, Christy would come up with another,” Diebolt said.

    Diebolt recalled election night in 1990 when John Engler won a tight race against then-Gov. James Blanchard.

    “The race was tight all night and we weren’t able to call the election for the morning editions. At 5 a.m., several of us were calling election clerks in places as far away a Dowagiac while Christy was tallying votes on a calculator. Finally around 6:45 a.m., we felt comfortable enough to call the election for Engler for the next edition.”

    Bradford is survived by her husband, Ed Barton; a brother, Dr. Merrill Bradford; and a sister, Martha Bradford.

    Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

    You can reach Tom Greenwood at (313) 222-2023 or tgreenwood@detnews.com.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Here’s an out-of-the-box suggestion for solving the industry’s woes, courtesy of a (happily) former Gannett publisher. Shocking tidbit: They’re adding newsroom positions.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Pick a category and it show poor execution. News flash — don’t believe anything you are told from corporate about the Go4 Web sites. I can tell you we are hemorrhaging page views. There will be a lot of money going back to advertisers because page views are not delivering the impressions to advertisers.

    It is so sad because you have people in the trenches working incredibly hard to recover page views. So few things are measurable in what we do, but in the Online world, we can see results every day. Every hour. Now we see that not as many people are coming to our site. And unique visitors are down too.

    We can’t depend on one piece of technology that Gannett or GMTI delivers. Saxotech is clumsy at best, Maven (the new video delivery tool) does not deliver as promised. Pluck — it is a cluster pluck.

    GMTI makes changes and fails to tell the users in the field of the changes. They fail to report bugs or undocumented limitations.

    Shall I go on.

    Keep an eye on the various SEC filings and study the numbers related to digital. Solicit feedback from any of the sites that change to Go4, or Maven.

    Here’s something fun….ask your readers to offer their thoughts on what Go4 stands for.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Yeah, the GO4 rollout has been stunning in how poorly it’s been implemented.

    Poor documentation for the web redesigns, templates that don’t work, poor response times to calls for aid, Pluck lacks any substantial social networking functionality…

    I will say in defense of GMTI’s frontline personnel: I think they are being swamped by busybody managers trying to justify their salaries by coming up with too many products at the same time. Between GO4, Pluck, Maven and who knows what’s next there’s no way they can do all of these things well and these poor guys are bearing the weight of fixing their bosses’ errors.

    “Good enough” is NOT “good enough” and it’s taking an all-too-easily quantifiable toll.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    On Donovan’s column, she doesn’t say they’re “adding newsroom positions.” She says they’re “filling key newsroom positions.” There’s a difference. Granted, in these days we should celebrate whenever news vacancies get filled. But we should apply the same critical eye to other companies’ spin that we apply to G.

  6. Jim Hopkins Says:

    To Anon@6:53 a.m.: What is GMTI?

  7. Jim Hopkins Says:

    In an e-mail, a reader tells me that GMTI stands for Gannett Media Technologies International: http://www.gmti.com/about.asp

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Look at the corporate structure related to digital. News – they have their various pet projects the push.

    GMTI – which develops various digital tools.

    Then there is the entire CIO part of corporate.

    Add in GNS, which should be aggregating content.

    All of these turfs are battling each other. Look at the various Gannett properties that are developing similar digital products all looking to the same sources for content.

    How about pulling broad content topics under one umbrella instead of wasting all the labor doing the same work at different sites. This would leave the individual properties to put their efforts in providing just the local information.

    Where is the corporate aggregating of information. We have huge amounts of information produced across the company every day, but is there an easy way to pull it all together.

    This is so simple, why is it not happening. Probably because these various can look down the road and get past their little political positioning they are trying to do.

    Nobody seems to be displaying any courage. All the actions being taken by this company seem to be fear based and reactive.

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